Six UK regional hubs have joined forces to put pressure on the UK Government for greater support to help the travel sector recover from the pandemic.
Manchester Airport alongside Leeds Bradford Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Doncaster Sheffield Airport, Newcastle International Airport and Carlisle Lake District Airport, is calling on the British Prime Minister to develop a manageable, realistic and cost-effective system that would enable travel to and from the UK to restart in May.
Collectively, the six Northern airports handled close to 50m passengers in 2019, supported by more than 200,000 jobs and generated around £14bn for the economy of the North. With passenger levels having plunged to jus t5% of those volumes and with tens of thousands of travel sector jobs already lost across the North, the airports are calling on government leaders to set out how it will offer support to the sector while travel remains prohibited.
“It is nearly one year since a dark cloud appeared over the aviation sector, as COVID-19 ground international travel to a halt. It is clear for all to see the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on our sector, with tens of thousands of jobs lost already,” said Karen Smart, MD of Manchester Airport.
The five airports have written to Boris Johnson, asking for dedicated additional support measures that recognise the unique way airport businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and their critical role in recovery. They are requesting relief from fixed costs to Government, a sector-specific extension of the furlough scheme to help the hundreds of thousands of job supported by the industry, and for measures to be adopted to boost the sector by reducing the cost of travel and spurring on Northern aviation.
“With airports across the North still facing uncertainty and difficult decisions over the coming months, it is absolutely critical that the Chancellor recognises the unique impact the pandemic continues to have on aviation when setting out his budget next week,” added Smart.
“Having already lost one summer season, we are now heading towards summer ’21 facing yet another review into how our industry might restart, and the prospect of a system that could continue to restrict travel. The recent surge in bookings reported by airlines proves the demand is there, but the Government needs to help realise that potential without delay, by working with industry to build on the measures already developed to keep passengers safe, without further undermining consumer confidence,” she added.
She added that failure to get this support right risks further long-lasting damage to the communities served by the airports and the prospects of a full and balanced UK recovery. “This means supporting Northern airports and the vital connectivity they provide. If they don’t, ministers run the risk of damaging the prospects of the Northern economy for years to come,” Smart concluded.
Despite forming a vital part of the UK’s national infrastructure, airports do not typically receive any funding from Government, relying instead on commercial income to support their operations. Current travel restrictions mean airports effectively have no income streams and are unable to diversify in the way other businesses are. At the same time, fixed costs for airports remain high, including business rates, policing and air traffic control.